Seun Kuti is the son of Fela Kuti and is now the leader of Egypt 80. His first full-length Many Things will be out Tuesday.
Is the Nigerian government still trying to suppress Afrobeat music?
Yeah, because you can’t support something that is against you. They know what Afrobeat stands for, so it receives no support from the government or police. They support all these Nigerian hip-hop bands. It’s very cheap low-quality pop.
Do you feel at risk when you perform there?
What can you do? The movement is bigger than any one person. I don’t want to be quiet and have my kids feel the same in the future—but very likely my kids will face the same kind of Africa. But I will not give up still. I’m happy my dad was not just local. He influenced people all around the world. It’s hard to stop Afrobeat. It’s no longer Nigeria. It’s global.
How do you feel when you meet musicians who have never faced these kinds of threats?
I normally think every artist should have one or two songs on their album that speak to something, but it’s not a criteria for artists when I meet whether they’ll be friends or not. Every artist has their own calling—their own comfort zone. If they don’t want to be political, that doesn’t mean they’re less of a guy—doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the struggle. I don’t judge. As artists we have great power. A lot of people listen to what we have to say. I think every artist should contribute to this change—to bring possibility to the world we live in. To the people that we meet and that buy our albums—and their kids. I don’t predict the future. I live my life by the second, you know? You can’t plan ahead—things happen 10,000 miles away that affect your long-term plans. That’s why I don’t believe in anything supernatural. I believe all men should be equal—really be equal.
What’s the most important thing you want to communicate in interviews like this?
Personally—I really want to let people know that my album is out!
The second most important?
First and second is what I just said—everybody should strive for change. I don’t believe in black people, white people, yellow—there are good people and bad people. That’s what I really think—all men should be equals.
How do you feel about press assessing you only in terms of what your father did?
I’m first a man—I know who I am. I talk about my dad when I talk about my music. I don’t have a problem with that because then I’m denying who I am. One of the first lessons I was ever taught as a kid was to realize who I am. If people say I’m in my dad’s shadow, I don’t care. It’s a good place to be. He was a very great man. But I don’t think that’s who I am—I’m an artist on my own. If I wasn’t Fela’s son, maybe all these things wouldn’t be said—‘Oh, what a great Afrobeat guy!’ But I’m my father’s son as well, so I accept whatever it is. Unless they say I’m not a good musician.
Do they say that?
They never say that. I’d whup ass on anyone who’d say that!
Was that the first time you were ever on stage at the Apollo?
No, that was the first time I decided I wanted to sing—at the Apollo after watching my dad. I was about eight. I went to him and said, ‘Fela, I want to start singing.’ And he said, ‘Can you sing? Sing a song.’ So I sang a song and he made one or two corrections—‘You’re not bad at all. You can start practicing with the band.’ I decided to do that—when I grow up, I really wanted to be like my dad. Music was my first career choice.
Why were people angry when you decided to keep Egypt 80 going?
I really don’t know. I thought I was doing something great and helpful—for the image of Africa as a whole and the image of Afrobeat. But a lot of people—they didn’t understand what my father stood for. It was a very dark time in my life. A trying time. They wanted to kill the music, kill the band—they wanted everything to die with my father. But my father didn’t just influence Nigeria—he influenced the world. Nigeria is a very small part of the world—a dark part, a backward part—and they wanted to stop this great light. Impossible. And here I am ten years later with my first album—doing it big.
Why is now finally the time for a first album?
Now we have a contract. And I’m only 25 now. I had to go to school, go back, be with the band, re-establish ourselves, prove ourselves. I didn’t wanna do an album when I was 17 or 18. Afrobeat is not pop. You have to talk about what you understand, and I didn’t wanna make a shit album that I can not erase.
That’s rare perspective.
Maybe it’s just my upbringing. I wasn’t brought up in a selfish way to where I think of money all the time. I was always taught to look at the bigger picture. I’m at the beginning of a long marathon.
Wasn’t the original title of this album A Long Way To The Beginning?
How did you know? That was corny. I feel it was a long way to the beginning for me, but it’s corny anyway. I changed it at the last minute and ooh, my record company was pissed!
How did Barack Obama help get your visas last time?
He heard we had problems getting an appointment to get our visas—he heard we were supposed to play Chicago, and then we called his office and told him and he called the American embassy in Toronto and got us appointments there. It was really easy because of Barack Obama.
If elected, will he be the first U.S. president to know and like Afrobeat?
I’m sure the other ones know but don’t like it—he likes it!
You’ve said that it’s time to change from ‘get up and fight’ to ‘get up and think.’ What does that mean and why is it time?
Africa has been fighting since the ‘60s. That’s the wrong ideology. Fela tried to change it a long time ago, but a lot of people weren’t listening. I’m saying, ‘Why are we fighting with people all the time? We have to get up and think why we fight so we don’t end up suffering and wasting blood for nothing. If we wanna fight for change, it must really be for change—not for the illusion of change.’ I really want to see our resources for the benefit of the people—not for corporations and the government. Africa is the best continent in the world in terms of resources! I wanna see it built without Western influence. We have everything—what do you want? We got it! But giving us loans and helping our government—they’re spoiling the continent. If you leave it alone to sort out the problems, and stop giving money—all that money is going back to the West, you know?
What’s it like to come home from a tour like this?
It’s hard to adjust from being on tour to being at home. After you tour the so-called developed countries in the world, it’s hard to go back to where there’s no light, no water. But it adds fuel to my movement. I see more of the world, and then go back to my country and see what’s happening and know it has to change. It’s fuel for my fire when I’m going back home!
SEUN KUTI AND FELA’S EGYPT 80 ON FRI., JUNE 20, AT CALIFORNIA PLAZA, 350 S. GRAND AVE., LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / ALL AGES. GRANDPERFORMANCES.ORG. AND SAT., JUNE 21, AT THE EL REY, 5515 WILSHIRE BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / $33.50 / ALL AGES. GOLDENVOICE.COM. SEUN KUTI AND EGYPT 80’S MANY THINGS RELEASES TUE., JUNE 24, ON TOT OU TARD. VISIT SEUN KUTI AT PLANETE-AURORA.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/SEUNKUTI.